Six years ago, my church small group started a life-changing tradition. It hasn’t changed our lives, but our kids’ lives.
My daughter Bethany is the oldest child in our group. Six Augusts ago, she was starting Kindergarten. Sending a kid off to school for the first time is worrisome and nerve-racking. Will she make friends? Will she keep up academically? Have all those Baby Einstein videos and I-Can-Read books really helped? To help her find her footing (and, if we’re honest, to help her parents feel better about being away from her for six hours a day) we pulled together a little pre-school pep-rally. All the ladies in our small group took Bethany to breakfast. Each of them had a gift, a Bible verse, or a word of encouragement for her.
Since that breakfast six Augusts ago, our little group has sent off seven more kindergarteners that way. Last Friday, the men in our group gathered for the latest send-off. We fed little Kyle a breakfast burrito and told him to be strong and courageous for the Lord will be with him wherever he goes … even public school! Kyle is like every other five-year-old on the planet: he has a short attention span and he’s not sure how to talk to grown-ups. But he was locked-in Friday morning. He made eye contact, answered questions, and listened to every word. Kindergarten is the biggest change in his little life and, in the face of the Great Kindergarten Unknown, he was getting the message that there were four men besides his dad who were in his corner. This is life-affirming stuff.
When a kid sits in a circle with a half-dozen other grown-ups who care about her and want her best, it does more than encourage her. It ascribes value to her. And it raises the idea that, even if she has tuned out her parents’ voices, there are other, less-scoffed-at voices keeping her on track.
Just like she was the first six years ago, Bethany is the first kid we’ve sent to middle school. And the ladies in our group decided that was also a big enough life event to warrant a send-off meal. They went to dinner at Bethany’s favorite restaurant. I suppose now this commits us to a whole round of high-school send-offs and college send-offs as well. I hope so. I think this is part of what it means to be in community that inspires shalom. In my church small group, I get to be part of an uncommon group of uncommonly loving people. For that, I’m grateful.
And so is Bethany.